Whaley House Junior Docent Program
At SOHO our mission of preservation through education is well known and our stewardship of the Whaley House has afforded us some wonderful new opportunities to expand our message to visitors from around the world and to the classrooms of San Diego schools. Executive Director Bruce Coons first became interested in San Diego history as a young boy but there were few opportunities in the 1960's for children with such 'grown-up' interests. He created his own and became a preservation advocate through that love of history. Bruce brought to the Whaley House Steering Committee his desire to implement a youth program to introduce kids to historic preservation through the history of the Whaley House. Without established programs in other San Diego museums to draw from, this was no easy task. Just two months after taking over the stewardship of the property we began our program with sixteen-year-old Victor Santana and fifteen-year-old year María Balandrán as our first volunteers. Victor and María are still working with us today, adeptly dividing their time between the Whaley House and their first year of college.
Our program at two years has seven regular junior docents: Michelle Hamilton; Jordan DuBois; Bob Feldman; Daniele Funk; Ella Springer; and Victor and María. These young people give up every Sunday because they love their work here.
We are all learning from each other and guests are greatly impressed with the young tour guides. Our Junior docents are trained alongside the adult docents, where they are treated as peers. All docents are held to the same standards and given the same responsibility of providing the visitor with an enjoyable, fun and hopefully educational experience. Our goal is to grow preservationists, to show children why historic preservation and a sense of place are so important to their lives and their identity, and to develop a sense of pride-of-ownership in their city. Recently, when the leader of a North County Girl Scout troop learned of our junior program, she requested that their group tour be conducted only by the junior docents, kid to kid. It was very successful and the group left wishing they had such an opportunity in their area, integrating historic places into the curriculum is still new to many educators.
In time, as our program matures, we hope SOHO will serve as a model for others and provide educators and parents with a means of exciting students about history while introducing them to the concepts of preservation and stewardship. We are currently looking for funding to expand the entire docent program with period attire and even more in-depth training.
We are proud of our Junior docents, their dedication and commitment to the house is a lesson for us all.
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